8 Dec 2006

Military cements grip on Fiji - looks to legitimise its actions

2:24 pm on 8 December 2006

The Fiji military is cementing its takeover of the country's governing institutions and is now looking for some legitimacy for its actions.

The appointed prime minister, Dr Jona Senilagakali, has begun operating out of the P.M.'s office, top public servants have been sacked and the military is seeking applications for the posts of ministers, whom they've dumped.

Linda Skates has been following developments.

Dr Senilagakali has admitted that what he and the military are doing is illegal but that's not a deterrent to him.

It also appears that some in Fiji, including those in high level positions and current politicians, have abandoned hope that the coup can be reversed and want to move on.

The associate professor of governance at the University of the South Pacific, Dr Jon Fraenkel, says people signing up to the military's interim administration know the danger of doing so.

"Everyone of those politicians will know that they run a serious risk - after the last coup, many politicians were convicted for swearing an illegal oath of office and unless the law courts become a kind of pliable instrument for the commander's personal rule, they will not find this coup to be legal, and they will find all those people who are prepared to stand up and join an interim administration to have broken the law, and many of them could find themselves in prison."

At this point, the judiciary is remaining firm although the country's chief justice, Daniel Fatiaki, was involved in abrogating the constitution in the previous coup of 2000.

However, Mr Fatiaki has released a statement saying Fiji's judges will stand by their oaths to uphold the constitution and the country's courts remain open.

A courts official, acting Chief Registrar Emosi Koroi, set out the judges' position.

The position of the judiciary remains as usual, and that is just to uphold the rule of law. At the moment our stand is that the courts are open and will always remain open, unless and until the constitution goes down. If the constitution goes, then there's no courts.

There are clear signs, however, that the opposition is beginning to weaken in some sectors with police officers accepting the military's replacement of the acting police commander in a traditional ceremony.

As for the politicians, Commodore Bainimarama sacked all the ministers but many cabinet members refused to accept this.

One, a Labour party minister, Krishna Datt, said he won't resign and is still in office.

I was sworn in by the President and and I have to wait till I hear from the President. And so long as he is there - and from what I can gather the president is very much there - and the Prime Minister Qaarase is still asserting that he is the prime minister, [and] the Council of Chiefs obviously recognises both the institutions and the individuals involved... I see no reason to to give up!

His Labour party leader and former Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, has, however, been criticised for NOT speaking out more strongly against the coup.

Mr Chaudhry was deposed as the P.M. in the 2000 coup but he is not condemning the military's actions this time through.

Dr Fraenkel believes this is a mistake.

Some members of the Fiji labour party are still very aggrieved by what happened in 2000 and I've noticed that their statement about the coup was somewhat equivocal. They didn't call for a restoration of the previous government. They called for the restoration of the president.

Mr Chaudhry says he's willing to help the military to quickly restore democratic rule in the country.

I will not accept anything which is not constitutional or legal. I've made that very clear. But, as far as I'm concerned and all of us in the Labour party are concerned, we will not be party to any illegal or any unconstitutional measure, that is out of the question. However, in terms of restoration of democratic rule, we as a political party, are very willing to assist in that process.

Mr Chaudhry says corruption is rife within the country, and the Qarase government was seen to be condoning that.

The deposed prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, has so far refused to resign thus not providing any legal grounds for the military take-over but now he's saying that he's considering alternative employment options or even permanent retirement.

There's also expected to be little opposition from the public service following the sacking of the Public Service Commission chairman.

Some chief executives of government ministries have already been dumped but the others say they've agreed to carry on in their roles and will meet the military commander and the appointed prime minister on Monday.

Fiji's highest traditional authority, the Great Council of Chiefs, is taking a different stance.

The GCC is the body which appoints the president and it has to date refused to accept the military's takeover of power, saying it only recognised Ratu Josefa Iloilo in the post.

The GCC chairman, Ratu Ovini, also called the removal of the vice president from his office and residence, illegal, unconstitutional and disrespectful.

The self-appointed president, Commodore Bainimarama, is now seeking a meeting with the GCC at which he hopes to cede presidential powers back to Ratu Josefa, thereby gaining some legitimacy from the GCC for the coup.

Ratu Ovini is cautious about such a meeting.

For the last few weeks we have been inviting the commander to come to the consultation table and thrash out the differences between him and the prime minister.

Ratu Ovini pointed out that Commodore Bainimarama refused to do so up until now.

The GCC chairman says he will need to consult council members about the request and it will have to be considered so they will not give the army a yes or no answer straight away.

With some politicians wavering, the police accepting a military appointed leader and the public service acceding to military rule, there are questions over what the GCC and the judiciary will do next and whether they will be able to resist the commander's demands or accept the country's fourth coup in 19 years.